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Re-Modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance
Re-Modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance
by Ruth A. Johnston
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.00
25 used & new from $16.64

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Insight Into Differences In People, October 14, 2015
In a Nutshell

You should totally read this book; the author does a great job of describing human people more accurately than any other personality theory I've seen.


The Myers-Briggs system, jumping off of Carl Jung's writings, draws several dichotomies in personalities. The S-N split describes how some people are more concrete and others more abstract. The T-F split describes a person's focus on numbers-thinking versus relationship-feelings. And so on. Books like Kiersey's Please Understand Me II develop the Myers-Briggs formulas into a proper conceptual framework for describing enduring personality traits evinced by people over time.

A New Theory

In Re-Modeling the Mind, the author develops a system of personality which is both new and old. She delves deeply into Carl Jung's writings, "fixing" distinctions that have got lost over time; at the same time, she melds in important features from modern cognitive research, citing relevant studies that provide support and imagery for her distinctions. While she uses the Myers-Briggs letters (I-E, N-S, T-F, P-J), she re-formulates them into a different overall picture of how personality works.


- The new theory makes many useful observations about real people's actual patterns of thought. I gained much insight into actual people I knew. For example, it had vaguely seemed to me before that there was something similar about my husband and one of our neighbors; now, thanks to this book, I have the vocabulary to describe it: the two of them both have Introverted Intuition.

- The author lays out straightforwardly how to place her personality theory in context; everyone is a unique individual, she firmly acknowledges, and some things are universal to all humans. Personality theory lies between the two; it is the search for which facets of our experience can be expected to continue, to help us predict our future needs. At the same time, she never makes her personality model sound like a one-size-fits-all solution; she has a section dedicated to the ways that her model can be used to understand people who don't fit her model perfectly. (Which is not as contradictory as it sounds.)

- The language of the book is highly accessible. Although the concepts are in-depth, the author does not resort to difficult terminology, instead laying the ideas out carefully, step by step, in normal language. The only "special" terms she uses are the ones she defines herself as the labels for the model.

- Each piece of the model, each segment of the personality theory, is laid out with both a description and examples from literary works. Historical figures are sometimes mentioned, too, to help the reader learn to transpose the theory onto reality for themselves.

- The author is correct that her model is dynamic instead of being a list of traits. Although I have found Kiersey's take on the Myers-Briggs model to be considerably helpful in my life, one complaint I have is that it fails to account for the way that people sometimes exhibit contradictory traits. Johnson's model portrays any individual as having ALL of the basic mental functions, with different orders of dominance. This gives a much greater flexibility to her model, a flexibility that is badly needed in any model hoping to capture the complexity of real people.


- While readable, the book is dense, with new ideas continually piled on. I had to read most of the book twice before I felt I had got it all straight in my mind.

- The book is not humorous, since it's meant as a scholarly topic. I felt it also would have benefitted from more personal anecdotes (there are three, if I recall correctly) to illustrate the author's model, but I've heard that the author left these out to avoid referencing family and friends without their permission.


This is a really good book, and I highly recommend it. Understanding why other people don't think the way you do is always a tricky thing for humans, and having a good personality model to help frame your expectations is fundamentally worthwhile.

Rationality: From AI to Zombies
Rationality: From AI to Zombies
Price: $4.99

42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible ideas, just needs to be written as a proper book, September 16, 2015
"There is a spoon." <-- Best line of the book.

This "book" is a compilation of 333 blog posts that Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote for the blog Less Wrong, with a few transitional explanations inserted. Eliezer Yudkowsky draws on knowledge about cognitive biases, the math of human decision-making, probability theory, and other fields to present a coherent picture of how humans think and some of the common mistakes that we should try to avoid. (For more details on that, see below.)

TONE: Yudkowsky's tone is eager, sometimes derogatory, challenging. I list this here because it is both a con and a pro. If you disagree with something he says, it's harder to listen when he doesn't seem to be respecting your position. But the style is also more engaging and fun to read than if he was drily presenting facts and leaving it up to you how to feel about it.

While the author does not set out to explicitly disprove religious beliefs, he does sometimes use examples of religious thinking (from a wide variety of faiths) to illustrate irrational thinking. He also draws on examples from the history of science and from politics, so religion is not just getting the short end of the stick. If you're wondering whether this book will offend your beliefs, here is a sample—if you can tolerate this, you should be fine with the rest of the book:

"Nobel laureate Robert Aumann, of Aumann's Agreement Theorem, is an Orthodox Jew... This should scare you down to the marrow of your bones. It means you can be a world-class scientist and conversant with Bayesian mathematics and still fail to reject a belief whose absurdity a fresh-eyed ten-year-old could see. It shows the invincible defensive position which a belief can create for itself, if it has long festered in your mind."

He uses this to give the atheist reader a feel for how much effort it would take them to question or destroy their own most cherished beliefs.


* Crazy LONG. (It's a good thing the TOC numbered the individual blog posts, because if I had tried to count them myself, I'd have given up after 108 or so. I can't tell you how long it took me to read it, because I'm a sleep-deprived mom and my memory of personal events extends to roughly yesterday. It took my smartphone two minutes just to scan the document for a word.)

* JUMPS AROUND A LOT instead of building the matter from the ground up. JUST KEEP READING; don't follow all the links to later points in the book, just read it through in the order given. It will all fit together, in the end.

* HIGHLY TECHNICAL REFERENCES are thrown in. Light cones, minimum message length, configuration space, logarithmic utility functions, Python scripts, and Occam priors may all be mentioned without explicit explanation. JUST KEEP READING. The bulk of the language is easily accessible, and the ideas still come across. Although I could follow most of those, so if you're less interested in science/math/programming than I am, maybe it will affect you more.

* NOT PRACTICAL ENOUGH. The author rightly identifies that his work is primarily aimed at what we should know rather than how to apply what we know in real life. (Although the examples given do serve that purpose, at least somewhat.) I sincerely hope he tackles that front with the same skill that he tackled the first.

Mr. Yudkowsky, please take note: these ideas need a proper book. One single book to encode the ideas you've got so far, written to simply, engagingly, and briefly-as-possible introduce the subject to the general public.

* Oh, and a minor quibble. The Quantum Mechanics sequence in the e-book is incomplete. Since I have an ongoing interest in understanding QM better, I went back and read through the whole sequence online. If you just want to know about QM's application to rationality, and aren't trying to grasp the theory overall, the sections in the book are fine.


* HIGHLY ENGAGING STYLE. Despite throwing in technical language regularly, the author's style is not dry, formal, or stiff; it's quite easy and fun to read.

* GREAT HUMOR. I love when he ends a blog post by displaying (in an ironic manner) the very cognitive error he was talking about.

* FICTIONAL INTERLUDES. Masters of Bayesian fu, zombies that turn the world normal, and more fictional interludes help demonstrate his points. Since I first started looking into his sequences after reading his Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfic, I was pleased to see more of his skills along those lines.

* SERIOUS ABOUT APPLYING HIS OWN IDEAS. As in, he's really thought his ideas through and tried to apply his knowledge of biases to his own thinking. He's not just on a superiority trip; he uses examples from his past to show problematic thinking and openly discusses how his biases might be affecting his conclusions and what he's done to try to avoid that.

* The ideas. OH MY GOSH THE IDEAS. In no particular order:

- grounding words and theories in expected differences of experience, so that your words mean something and aren't just floating terms disconnected from anything real. [This was my favorite because it resolved a dilemma I'd been having]

- how something can feel like an explanation without concretely being one

- why it matters if you play the lottery

- the reasons political arguments so frequently refuse to admit any downside to proposed policies

- the way we fail to properly take into account new evidence, avoid our belief's real weak points, don't look hard enough for counter-evidence, and look harder for evidence against something if we don't want to believe it than if we do

- the way thinking people like to talk about reasons to believe something that aren't our true reasons for believing it

- how our thinking is influenced by fictional accounts

- the importance of talking about problems before trying to come up with solutions

- and then once you start proposing solutions, don't stop at the first likely-sounding one, but consider as many as possible (at least if the issue is important enough to warrant the time)

- experiments that show the effect of unbounded and bounded scales in human estimates, and the application of this to jury-awarded penalties

- what conformity and dissent really look like, the experiments related to them, and what the role of each should be

- how hard it is to say oops, you made a mistake, and change your mind—and how reminding yourself that you're already living with reality can help make that easier

- evolution as a stupid optimization process that does not necessarily result in the kind of things that humans (especially nice humans) desire ... an example being that researchers tried to make insects self-control their own reproduction by eliminating excessive numbers, only to end up with insects that cannibalized their neighbors nests instead of controlling their own breeding

- what to do when arguments devolve into arguing about definitions

- why it feels like we need an answer to the question "does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one hears it?", even if we agree on what actually happens in the forest

- the mind projection fallacy and why sci-fi aliens try to kidnap beautiful women [I've found multiple applications for this in the last couple months, everything from the philosophy of aesthetics to online discussions of homosexuality to my husband's view of life in general... and pretty sure I caught myself doing it a few times, too]

- the danger of knowing about cognitive biases, because then they become more fuel with which you destroy others' arguments but don't become tools that you apply to your own thinking

- taking joy in the "merely real" and seeing the poetry of things as they are, without needing extra mysticism added on [This part occasionally rang hollow to me... not because I thought he was wrong about enjoying reality as it is or the beauty in science and curiosity, but because I felt he didn't quite "get" poets and the different way their brains work - their different goals, as it were.]

- reductionism and how to understand consciousness in a world "merely" made of fundamental particles; he discusses the Descartian "ghost in the machine", supernaturalism, and zombie consciousness theory along the way

- a sort of overview of what quantum physics is doing, focusing on quantum collapse vs. multi-worlds ... and why we should believe the latter

- the model of Traditional Science, where you can believe any theory you want as long as you can come up with a prediction and then test it ... vs. the model of Bayes, where you use every scrap of evidence at hand, worked into the hard math of Bayes' probability theorem if possible, to drag yourself as close as possible to the truth

- why we would want to be good people even if reductionism is true and there is no "ultimate" morality being beamed at us from outside the universe

- experiments that show humans don't pay attention to absolute numbers (scope insensitivity), and how this should be changed when thinking about charitable giving

- what steps rationalist atheists might take that could match and surpass the community-building effects of religion in general and the charity-giving of the Catholic Church in particular
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 20, 2016 2:49 PM PDT

Count Your Blessings
Count Your Blessings

5.0 out of 5 stars optimism without the optimism, June 21, 2013
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This review is from: Count Your Blessings (MP3 Music)
I love this song. Their voices are beautiful, and there is a pleasant lyrical sound to the whole thing. Mostly, though, I appreciate the reminder that the song offers to, as the name says, count my blessings. It's easy to focus on all the unpleasant and nasty stuff that happens to us, the pain in our lives, but as Damian and Nas list their blessings, they remind us of some of the good things that we have too, which we may have forgotten to see. They bring good, earthy hope, without trying to gloss over the bad and with a sort of matter-of-factness about the good things in our lives, rather than a weepy sentimentalism.

The Great Below [Explicit]
The Great Below [Explicit]
Price: $8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark but hopeful, April 23, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I'm not really the person to ask about musical flavors, but the closest thing I can think of to Shua's style of music is Aesop Rock: basically rap, but with a stronger influence from instruments and more vocal tone changes (singing vs. rap-speak) than a lot of rap has.

The songs are dark in a lot of ways and include topics like depression, fighting demons, suicide, and dealing with hateful people. I would say there is an underlying hopeful sense that the darkness isn't the only side of things, but the emphasis is mostly on the dark side.

I really like the album. [Disclaimer: the artist is my cousin.] It gets four stars instead of five mostly because, frankly, I'm not that big a fan of rap. So it's not the kind of music I would normally buy. But I'm glad I did; I feel like he has some things to say that are worth saying.

Children's Book - Rocket Boy Reaches the Stars (Rocket Boy Adventure Series 13)
Children's Book - Rocket Boy Reaches the Stars (Rocket Boy Adventure Series 13)
Price: $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple - Sort of. Awesome Photos., January 15, 2013
I think this book is meant as a finale in the Rocket Boy Adventure series, because it starts off "Rocket Boy had learned a lot about the Solar System", which frankly is an odd way for a book to start. But it proceeds to mention a few things in the Solar System that R.B. had learned about, as a sort of review, and then moves out to educating kids about stars.

What I didn't like:
It's hard to figure out what an appropriate age for this book is. It's very simple - there's no real plot, and just one sentence per page - which I associate with toddlers and preschoolers. But the vocab is definitely over a preschooler's head, despite the book's explanations. (Example: "Rocket Boy's favourite star is Antares, a 'red supergiant', in the Scorpius constellation." They explained 'constellation' on the next pages, but not that stars have names, and that Antares was the name, much less what it means to be a red supergiant.) When I read the book to my 2yo, my 6yo and 8yo got distracted from their schoolwork and came over to listen. (But I doubt they would have voluntarily chosen to read it unless they were pretty bored.) I would say it has at least a little bit to offer any kid from toddler years up through elementary grades, without being ideally suited for any of those ages.

What I liked:
The book has gorgeous pictures of the sun and stars and such. I thought they showed up vividly on my kids' Kindle Fire. It is educational; it might not explain everything it says in detail, but it will at least introduce kids to some astronomy vocab, which I figure was the real point. And I did think the "Rocket Boy" aspect was cute, in a way that little kids will appreciate. But the best part of the book was definitely the pictures.

The Corpus: The Hippocratic Writings (Kaplan Classics of Medicine)
The Corpus: The Hippocratic Writings (Kaplan Classics of Medicine)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Read - in Parts, October 11, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I read this book as a non-medical person interested in reading some scientific classics. What better place to begin than with the writings of Hippocrates, who lived in the 400s BC? It was, indeed, quite fascinating. Here are my various thoughts.

1. The Kindle edition

The Kindle edition has a number of typos (most often a phrase that gets repeated, rather than spelling errors), but they did not interfere much with the read-ability. The dictionary feature came in handy for those parts that were filled with ancient medical jargon (e.g. "hypochondrium" and "farinaceous").

2. Skimming The Book

One of the things that helped me most to get through this book was when I gave myself permission to skim past the pages and pages of detailed descriptions of body parts doing various things. Medical books from my childhood are already mostly out-of-date, and I'm not a doctor anyway, so I don't need to read that furfuraceous sediments in the urine are worse than farinaceous. (Oh yes... be aware that explicit discussion of excretory and sexual body parts is not shied away from in this book. Which is appropriate for a medical text.) There is much in the book that IS fascinating and relevant, so I encourage you to skip past the more boring parts that aren't.

3. What I Learned

Firstly, the ancients are much more knowledgable than I expected. I've heard so much about the laughed-at medieval notion of "humors", but in this book, I could see how those medieval notions were a formalized theory that grew out of what Hippocrates wrote... and what Hippocrates wrote was, in turn, based on the way he described and classified what he saw and observed. While he obviously couldn't do double-blind trials, he was not just some schmuck selling fake cure-all pills. (But apparently they had those, too, back then... "physicians are many in title but very few in reality" he writes.) He put a lot of effort into paying attention to the minutest details of symptoms. He had a limited, but working, knowledge of interior body parts and what their functions were; he knew the brain was split into left & right hemispheres, he knew about the hepatic vein and the vena cava. (Although he thought that semen came from all parts of the body... clearly he didn't know everything.)

It was especially fascinating to read, towards the end of On the Sacred Disease, Hippocrates' argument for why it is the brain, and not the diaphragm or heart, that is the seat of understanding. It was like watching CERN find the Higgs Boson - science in progress, at the time of first discovery. So cool. He also neatly describes thermal homeostasis (without using that phrase) in On Ancient Medicine.

Secondly, Hippocrates has a lot to say from a philosophical point of view that is worth considering, even when his beliefs don't transfer onto our conditions in an unambiguous way. He argues that doctors should be held criminally responsible for their errors; he argues that one disease is no more a divine act than others; he includes a doctor-patient confidentiality provision in the Hippocratic Oath (as well as, yes, a clause against abortion); he discusses what it takes to be a good doctor (a natural disposition towards it, diligence in studying, and so on). In 'On Airs, Waters, and Places', he has some interesting descriptions of the various attitudes and physiologies of people living in different areas of the Mediterranean world, which make for an interesting study on ancient people's approach to multiculturalism. All in all, I thought he had some fascinating perspectives that were worth thinking about.

If you are looking for an age recommendation for formal education, I would guess that a high schooler who already has a good vocabulary for their age could handle reading excerpts, particularly in the junior and senior years - maybe even in the freshman and sophomore years, but I am less certain of that. There may be other published books which provide just the excerpts of the most interesting parts; I haven't looked into those.

How Fast Is It?
How Fast Is It?
by Ben Hillman
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from $2.96

4.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Book, October 11, 2012
This review is from: How Fast Is It? (Hardcover)
First, a description of the book.

This book has 22 topics, each of which gets a two-page spread. About a page and a half of that is taken up by a large photo, with a sidebar on the right filled with text. Most of the photos are obviously Photoshopped, such as the sailfish swimming in a column of water down a traffic-filled freeway; a few of the photos are probably-but-less-obviously Photoshopped, like the cowboy whose whip frames an airplane jet. Most of the topics cover something that is known for its speed - the supersonic car, the fastest bike, the cheetah, and so on, but two are known for slowness (sloth and NASA Crawler). A few topics are focused around a comparison - computer speeds vs. brain speeds, coyote vs. roadrunner, horse (sprint) vs. human (endurance). About ten topics cover animals; six or so cover technologies; and a few cover natural phenomenon (like the speed of light).

The book is clearly meant to be both humorous and full of facts. Measurements are given in U.S./"English" units, followed by metric units in parentheses.

What I didn't like:

The humor was somewhat over-the-top and focused on puns, which is not my favorite form of humor. (Example: "And in 2004, a man in Wales beat more than forty horses and riders on a 22-mile (35.4 km) course. Humans? Slow? Neigh!"). A couple of the pictures were quite cheesy. (Example: horses and cowboys flying through the air all akimbo as the Kyoto maglev train speeds through.) However, since this book is meant for kids, and my kids all enjoy that sort of thing, this was a very minor quibble.

What I did like:

Overall, the book did a good job of engaging the reader's interest. (Both mine and my 9yo daughter's). The photos were visually striking, and the text was both humorous and informative.

Ben Hillman clearly went to some effort not to just throw facts at you without also trying to put them in perspective. ("Emperor penguins can swim in short bursts at 13 miles per hour (21km/h) - more than twice as fast as an Olympic swimmer!"). He mostly succeeded. I would say that there were more facts presented than anyone is likely to remember, but the frequent comparisons (both verbal and visual) do help the reader gain a better perspective than before. Many of the photos were well-done, capturing in a beautiful or humorous way something that was directly relevant to the text. (I was especially struck by the possibly-photoshopped picture of the 6-or-7-story tall bamboo growing out of the apartment window-box.)

Other impressions:

There was a bit of vocabulary that my (advanced) 9yo did not know ("simultaneously", for example, and I don't think she got the description of computer flops), but overall she picked up on the message just fine (brains are way faster than computers). So I would recommend the book for grades 4 to 10 or so, as being most likely to get the vocab and appreciate the humor. Kids in lower grades may appreciate it and understand it better if it is read aloud to them; the pictures do indeed lend themselves to that.

As a homeschooler, I am thinking of having my daughter graph the various speeds mentioned in the book, in order to help her get a sense of scale and familiarize her with the units used for speed. I used the book as part of a 4th-grade introduction to physics, with this month focusing on speed/forces. The book was interesting enough that I plan to have my younger kids read it as well, when they do this section.

The House That Jack Built One of R. Caldecott's Picture Books
The House That Jack Built One of R. Caldecott's Picture Books

1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing There, January 6, 2011
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No pictures. Apparently this book consists of the cover, the tile page that is identical to the cover, and one line saying "This is the House that Jack built." There were no pictures or story or anything else at all.

Prospero in Hell: Prospero's Daughter, Book II
Prospero in Hell: Prospero's Daughter, Book II
by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, October 17, 2010
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This book series is delightful to read. There is a myriad of interesting creatures and beings; I sometimes think the author is determined to include every mythological creature or deity that anyone has ever believed in. A sense of wonder and an appreciation for beauty pervades the book. But I think what I like the best about the book is the characters. They have depth to them, which makes them and the plot around them more real because of it. There's also a good bit of variety in the characters.

One thing I liked about this second book specifically was that the author did not spend a ton of time recapping the first book, the way so many books do, but kept it brief. (If you haven't read the first book, though, it might make it harder to pick things up.)

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